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DUMB: Attempting to operate a motor vehicle while focusing on a handheld device.

It's like drinking and driving minus the flimsy excuse of intoxication and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants to put an end to it. Calling on a battery of experts, elected officials and members of the pulic, LaHood has organized the Distracted Driving Summit, that looks to shed light on the oft-overlooked danger of driving while focused on everything but the road. According to the Department of Transportation website

“Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road - even for just a few seconds - they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” said Secretary LaHood. “Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

Secretary LaHood today announced new research findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that show nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured.  On any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.

Across the board, federal researchers who have directly observed drivers of all ages found that more and more people are using a variety of hand-held devices while driving – not just cell phones, but also iPods, video games, Blackberrys and GPS systems.  In particular, cell phone use for talking and texting is now more prevalent on our nation's roads, rail systems and waterways, carrying a dangerous potential for accidents.

Cell phones and texting are now the primary means of communication for many people, especially young adults.  NHTSA’s research shows that the worst offenders are the youngest drivers: men and women under 20 years of age.

Kudos to Secretary LaHood for this undertaking. We've grown so used to thinking we desperately need information immediately that we'll willingly put ourselves and others in danger. Across the pond, safety officials have taken a different approach in getting their point across.

The above video has  become an internet sensation. Some like it, thinking it sends a gruesome but effective message. Others wonder if the graphic images go too far in proving a point.

I won't lie: I think this video is fantastic. I was one of those kids whose driver's ed included the scare 'em straight accident videos and let's just say it left a lasting impression.